Women of color leaving

By
April 17, 2003

Graduate student Jennifer Ortiz is on a mission to get the administrations attention.

Two weeks ago she began gathering anecdotal statements about women of color’s feelings of invisibility on campus to present to administration in hopes these issues can be addressed.

According to Ortiz the majority of women of color feel that there is a discrepancy between Mills commitment to increase diversity and the diversity that it offers to its students of color.

“As people of color we’re a starving culture,” said Ortiz.

“We go through a period of disillusionment. We go through a process of this is how its going to be. I will not be this institution’s stepchild.”

Prompted by the recent increase of women of color transferring out of Mills, Ortiz sent an e-mail to encourage women of color to submit by e-mail anecdotal statements about why women of color are transferring out of mills or why they have considered it in the past.

Freshwoman Camille Pejoro is among the students who will be transferring from Mills. She said that many people feel that she is running an anti-Mills campaign but maintains that the major reason behind her decision is that she feels marginalized at Mills.

“One of the main reasons I’m leaving Mills is that I constantly feel underestimated and underrepresented,” Perojo said.

She stated that academics were another major deterrent to her continuing her studies at Mills.

“There is a lack of classes that deal with real social issues that often ignore such issues as racism within the context of the works in class.”

Joy Liu, an ethnic studies and art major, echoes Perojo’s statements. Before she came to Mills Liu said she heard that “[Mills] had a good reputation.”

“I heard a pitch from [president Holmgren] about diversity and how they were working on it. I thought it was really cool.”

However, after her second semester at Mills, Lui has expressed feelings of invisibility. “Sometimes you feel like a ghost. The college being so small you wouldn’t think you would feel so marginalized.”

While Sophomore and president of the Black Women’s Collective, Alysha Grevious is not transferring, she feels that Mills is blinded when it comes to issues of race.

“The biggest problem for women of color at Mills is that no one will admit that there are race issues at Mills besides women of color,” said Grevious.

Ortiz and others point out a series of overriding administrative reasons for the lack of support women of color feel at Mills.

The most recent is that of the sudden and abrupt resignation of dean of admissions Avis Hinkson. Ortiz expressed disappointment at the departure of Hinkson, who she said had taken a chance on her by helping her get accepted into Mills. Hinkson she said, is an example of what happens “when people start talking and start addressing the needs of women of color.”

In addition the recent reduction of the four-week SAW program to three weeks may decrease the number of prospective students of color. According to Ortiz ,the SAW program is predominately geared toward women of color right before they start Mills in the fall. Ortiz explained that SAW is essential to women of color who are entering college without the skills to succeed in college. Reducing the already intense program, said Ortiz, which attempts to “smash 12 years of education into four weeks” is impossible to further condense into three weeks.

Moreover students of color find that classrooms and the Mills campus aren’t always sensitive to issues of race. Perojo finds that too often classes and Professors that attempt to discuss the issues that people of color face perpetuate racist stereotypes. Ortiz suggested racial sensitive diversity workshops to expose non-faculty of color to concerns they normally would not have considered.

Another area of contention between students of color and administration surfaces when students try to organize events. Students express that their efforts to organize activities specific to their needs are often discouraged due to lack of support from administration. Grevious, a student organizer said she has found resistance and roadblocks from administration and students. According to Grevious examples of resistance range “from bold face lies to limitations on how my events are run because of the ‘kind’ of people that those events were catered to.”

” I never would have thought that organizing an event for a more comfortable and safe environment for women of color, at a university that we pay over 30, 000 dollars to attend would have to be so hard and so unsupported,” she said.

Furthermore, Ortiz and others expressed that women of color need a space to gather and increase their visibility. Currently plans are in the works to secure a designated space where women of color can have a visible presence. S-lounge as it has been coined would favor an anti-racist and race conscious space specifically for women of color.

Assistant Dean of activities Lisa McRipley agrees that the S-lounge would be beneficial to easing the isolated and alienated feelings expressed by women of color.

“I really believe that creating a solidarity lounge would help to address a lot of these concerns that I have heard from students of color,” said McRipley. ” I think a lounge would help socially as well as academically for students.”

However, McRipley notes that the feelings of isolation experienced by students of color are not just common to Mills. According to McRipley there is an overwhelming evidence of research that indicate nationwide that students of color at predominantly white institutions feel alienated and isolated.

While students should keep this in mind, she said that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to make changes. McRipley feels that there are many people on administration who are open to ideas and to meeting the needs of students.

“I am very open and very interested in helping create the ideal environment for the students of color here,” she said. “As a Mills community I think we can work together in making this a place where everyone feels comfortable and that they belong.”

Despite the feelings of displacement, Ortiz maintains confidence in what Mills is and can be. ” I am saying Mills you have potential. It has a lot to offer as an institution,” she said. However she added, “diversity needs to be a priority now, not only in times of economic prosperity.”

While the numbers of students of color who will be transferring is unknown, students like Perojo and Lui, already have their minds made up. Perejo is transferring to another private college where she said “the schools dedication to diversity is not limited to times of prosperity.” Lui said she is 98 percent sure that she will be planning on transferring to CCAC where she feels she will have more art classes to choose from.

there is an overwhelming evidence of research that reveal nationwide that students of color at predominantly white institutions feel alienated and isolated.

While students should keep this in mind she said that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to make changes. McRipley feels that they are many people on administration who are open to ideas and to meeting the needs of students.

“I am very open and very interested in helping create the ideal environment for the students of color here,” she said. . “As a Mills community I think we can work together in making this a place where everyone feels comfortable and that they belong.”

Despite the discrepancy between Mills commitment to increase diversity and the diversity that it offers to its students of color, Ortiz hopes her efforts will help bridge the gap. ” I am saying Mills you have potential. I’ve never turned anyone away from Mills. It has a lot to offer as an institution,” she said. However she added, “diversity needs to be a priority now, not only in times of economic prosperity.”

While the numbers are unclear about how many students of color will be transferring, students like Perojo and Lui, already have their minds made up. Perejo is transferring to another private college where she said “the schools dedication to diversity is not limited to times of prosperity.” Lui said she is 98 percent sure that she will be planning on transferring to CCAC where she feels she will have more art classes to chose from.


Women of color leaving was published on April 17, 2003 in News

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